It’s a bit late, this post. My school system has already wrapped up the first semester of the school year and I’ve been mulling over this post for a while. Like every day for a while.
The first year of Covid teaching was raw. Exhausting. Parents emailing my principal directly asking him to intervene on their behalf and make me work with this students…over the weekend. Thankfully, I work for an amazing principal who said….”no.” Teaching students virtually meant that the concept of time no longer existed in a parallel structure of night and day with contract hours and weekends. Virtual students lived within their intermittent, fluid timezones and felt, believed, knew, consecrated the reality that their teachers lived within the same, immediate timezones that had no real construct other than what the students had created. Really, it was fun having upwards of thirty plus emails coming in around midnight…with the expectation that I was answering them around one in the morning.
Really. That was fun.
I had never felt such exhaustion except for immediately after I birthed my children and was learning about three in the morning nursing sessions. I had never felt so exhausted as when I worked three jobs, one of which required travel around the state.
But the first year of Covid teaching ended. Somewhat gracefully. Students realigned their timezones to fit the more normal sequence of regular daylight saving time. Parents realized that weekend hours with families really are sacred for everyone. And my principal just stayed amazing and even bequeathed to me the newspaper class which, for me, feels like a huge step closer toward someday having a creative writing class.
And then this year happened.
Year two of Covid teaching.
To mask or not to mask? That is the question.
It really was the first round of questioning. Initially, we were allowed not to mask if we were vaccinated. Of course, we weren’t supposed to question whether or not someone was vaccinated. Everyone was naturally going to be super honest and wear masks if they were not vaccinated and no one was going to judge either side.
That changed within hours. Thankfully before school started so we didn’t have to hear the outcries of mask fatigued individuals.
Do we close or stay open now? If we close there’ll be trouble. If we stay open there’ll be double.
We stayed open. Which, in my honest, humble, and insignificant to the universe opinion was the right choice. Eighteen months of virtual teaching (even though we were actually open and doing pseudo-face-to-face-instruction starting the first possible day in 2020) had socially damaged the children. I teach primarily ninth graders. And starting the first day of the 2021-2022 school year, I realized that my ninth graders are at least a year behind in their social development. Watching ninth graders smack each other with corn on the cob was a definite indication that the students needed to learn basic social graces…like taking a bite of an apple and then throwing it across the room at a girl is not high on the social scale.
I learned that I needed to eat my lunch before my students so I could monitor them. Because ninth graders with seventh grade mentalities needed supervision. I do not envy any teacher or administrator who has lunch duty. It is exhausting to tell my ninth graders on a frequent basis that, “no, you can’t throw your trash across the room” or caution them against punching their straws into their milk so it wouldn’t spill.
The second year of Covid teaching has taught me that my reservoir of patience is depleted. Drained. So close to empty that I think parts of it is dry. The second year of Covid teaching has taught me that staying open for the students, though, is necessary because going virtual because we are tired does not mean that the problems will go away.
They will be enhanced. Reinforced. Validated and built upon.
I’m worn. Much like all of my colleagues across the nation. Because I read in a New York Times article about the general frustrations within high schools across the country. Because someone somewhere created the God-forsaken tik tok challenge that encourages students to destroy their schools. And the students across the nation have responded.
But I keep reminding myself that I must push forward. That things could always be worse. And, at times, they were.
Like when I had Covid myself, in spite of my two vaccinations and mask wearing and precautions. And though I had a mild case in comparison to others, the neurological impact was horrifying. I’m an English teacher and a writer, and I struggled to communicate. When I walked down the hall, I had to run my hand along the lockers/wall to keep myself steady and balanced. I was released to return to work on October 18th. I should have stayed out longer. Weak. Fatigued. And in such a brain fog that I struggled to formulate words that I was reading but couldn’t pronounce.
The second year of Covid teaching is a lesson on resilience. On evaluating my self-definition and adapting to the woman I need to be. On building in new vertebrae into my spine and finding that my voice can still have merit. Can still be powerful. Even when I can’t say the word.
The second year of Covid teaching means pushing forward. Means accepting the frustration and the discouragement because pretending they aren’t impacting me means not to accept the fact that I am still a human being.
Five months. Five more months and the second year of Covid teaching will end. I will not teach summer school this summer. I was hoping to travel to Germany…but given how Europe is shutting down its borders, I doubt it.
But the mountains thirty minutes to my west are calling to me. I will push forward. And pray that I will not have a third year of Covid teaching. And if I do…I’ll keep pushing through that too.